Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Argument over Class Size

The New York Times today ran an article about class size in New York's public schools. The average class size at every grade level in NY has increased. Although the city does not have data for the overall average increase (the data would be meaningless because class sizes are different depending on the grade) the largest increase was at the 3rd grade level. Last year the average class size was 20.9 students. This year, the average 3rd grade class is 21.8 students.

Teacher's Unions frequently argue for reduced class size as one of the proven ways to improve student achievement. This makes good sense -- smaller classes are easier to manage and allow more one-on-one time between teachers and students.

The question I have is this: to what extent does class size impact student achievement? Does it help more to have moderately smaller classes than it does to have art and music teachers? Does it help more to have smaller classes than to have school psychologists and counselors and special educators? Not being an education researcher, I don't know. But my guess is that it would be better for kids to have the additional resources than it would for them to be in smaller classes. Obviously, there aren't infinite funds, so if we hire more teachers we have to cut something else.

At my school, class sizes tend to be between 25 and 30 (at least, my ninth grade classes are that size -- except for the brief period last year when I had 45 on a roster, which resulted in me throwing quite the hissy fit until they moved kids around). However, on a given day it is rare if I have more than 20 in the room. Now, it is easier to manage a class of 18 than it is to manage a class of 30. However, I would much rather have all 30 kids there every day than deal with the truancy issues. So my point is I'd rather keep the large class size and hire some attendance counselors and psychologists to help kids get to class. I'd rather keep rosters around 30 and hire art, music, and theater to allow our children to creatively express themselves. Hiring an extra math teacher to get my rosters down to 20 would be relatively useless because many of my children would continue to struggle with issues that I can't help them solve.

4 comments:

DCSands said...

I'm a big fan of smaller class sizes - simply, it allows for more individualized attention on independent practice. It's also easier to tailor the lessons to the individual class. You can have sections of advanced and remedial classes, rather than teaching to the middle.

Of course, you do raise a good point about the fact that more core subject teachers you have to hire to decrease class size, the less money there is for art and music...

If only money didn't play into the equation.

lodesterre said...

There are some studies that demonstrate that smaller class sizes can improve scores for students especially in the early grades. However, there are also studies that show that reducing class size doesn't matter much if the instructor is poorly trained or inadequate in the performance of their job. There are also studies that show that reducing class size, especially for minority students, has a short-term effect but not a long-term effect.

As someone who has had small class size (16) and large (26), I can say that size doesn't always matter. what matters is the behavior of the class and the management of the class. When I had the smaller class I also had more disruptive students who had serious emotional issues and other problems that made it hard to keep any lesson on track. I spent more time doing classroom management than teaching.

Equally, when I had the larger class I had better classroom management and control and, while there were still a number of emotional/behavioral issues, I was able to teach a whole lot more. I got further with the larger class than I did with the smaller class in the same amount of time.

That said, I dream of having a class size again of 15 or 16 students. How nice it would be to give the individual time to the students that larger class size makes so hard to accomplish.

I think one good idea would be to make TFA and DCTF true mentoring programs where the new recruits are put in the room of a veteran teacher for two years as an assistant teacher. This would give a better teacher to student ratio and provide these new teachers with invaluable training. I know, as a DCTF myself, I would have appreciated such a program instead of the sink-or-swim process I was subject to.

Glenn Watson said...

I am not convinced school psychologists and attendance specialists do any good at all. But I am also not sure about class size. Obviously small classes are easiest to work with. Most good students would rather be in small classes.

I think if money gets tighter class sizes should grow before the loss of art and PE but additional tools should be given to teachers to deal with unruly student in large classes. This would not cost anything.

Glenn Watson said...

I am not convinced school psychologists and attendance specialists do any good at all. But I am also not sure about class size. Obviously small classes are easiest to work with. Most good students would rather be in small classes.

I think if money gets tighter class sizes should grow before the loss of art and PE but additional tools should be given to teachers to deal with unruly student in large classes. This would not cost anything.